March 10, 2015 10:32AM

In Suburban D.C., A Revealing Turf War

Montgomery County, Md., the suburban D.C. jurisdiction known for bans on polystyrene take-out trays, e-cigarette vaping, free bags at retail checkouts, and other disapproved elements of the mass-market economy, is now considering a ban on many common lawn and turf pesticides used by homeowners and commercial landscapers. Critics point out that since the safety of particular pesticides and their application is already comprehensively regulated at the federal and state level, the measure would put county lawmakers in the position of second-guessing safety determinations made by other, more scientifically expert levels of government. My favorite bit of the story, however, is this from yesterday’s Washington Post:

Opponents have aligned with soccer moms and dads concerned that playing field grass — also covered by the measure — will be less safe if it isn’t thickened with the help of traditional chemicals. They have an ally in County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), who wants to see [county athletic] fields exempted from the measure.

More details in a January report at BethesdaNow:

Montgomery County officials would like to see the county’s nearly 300 athletic fields exempt from a proposed ban of “non-essential” lawn care pesticides….

“We would expect declines in field quality and turf cover, higher maintenance costs, frequent field closures for renovation and decreased support in revenue,” [Parks Director Mike] Riley said.

If all this is being done for the children — and in government nowadays, what isn’t done for them? — then it would seem relevant that county athletic fields are exactly where you find children congregating in large numbers through much of the year. But notice instead how the county government is perfectly prepared to look out for its own interests for a host of plausible reasons that include maintenance expense, convenience and usability, and even safety and lawsuit risk (well-maintained turf is thought to reduce trip/fall hazards for players and resulting injuries). But private property owners won’t be allowed to invoke the same logic because, well, if they wanted kids to practice fast running moves on their lawns they should have deeded them over to the authorities for use as public parks or something.

Libertarians often note that the state freely bans private conduct in which it's happy to indulge itself — federal investigators can lie to you but it’s a crime if you lie to them, adopting federal accounting practices in your own business is a good way to get sent to prison, and so forth. But the double standard asked for here could wind up being — well, to coin a phrase, as bald as a Rockville lawn.